Questionable Motives

July 19, 2011

What is true and how can we know?

In conversation with many people of faith and accommodationists, I often face a postmodern notion I find deeply disturbing: a claim that what’s true is in the eye of the beholder – whether a believer or non believer. The notion of respecting reality to be any kind of arbiter for claims about reality seems to be a trivial point for many believers when discussing metaphysical notions while the liberal use of the term ‘truth’ in its supposed multiple guises falls off the tongue with ease when they unfailing apply these same notions to matters OF reality.

That’s cheating.

Such an assumption about the nature of what’s true – to afford the believer a way to effortlessly cross this line of demarcation between the metaphysical and the physical – allows subjective faith claims about god to be presented as equally valid ‘truths’ that somehow compete successfully with the scientific sense of the word ‘truths’ about physical reality. This is a bait and switch tactic, of course, in that a scientific truth is different in meaning than a faith-based assumption. The relativist would have us accept that each of us can subjectively assign the word ‘truth’ to whatever claim we want to believe and that this has no significant and detrimental affect on what we can know is true for all. The common misapplication is that something can be true for some but not for others in matter within this universe, such as jesus really, really, really was the son of god and performed miracles… as if each of us has a separate and distinct claim that is equally valid merely because we assign belief or lack of belief to it. But conclusions held to be true in the scientific sense of the word do not work this way.
As Jerry Coyne writes over at WEIT:
Different theologies have different “answers,” and even within a single faith different people diverge in their notion of religious “truth.”  In contrast, scientists—regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or nationality—converge on single, agreed-upon answers (of course there is still scientific disagreement about many cutting-edge issues). Water has two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules whether you’re a chemist in Africa, Eurasia, or America.  DNA in the nucleus is a double helical molecule consisting of sugars and nucleotide bases. Evolution is a fact for scientists in every land, for they can all examine the massive evidence supporting it.  There are many faiths; but there is only one science. The fact that different people from different backgrounds converge on the same scientific answers also implies that there really are objective truths about the universe.
And truths about reality that can be known, I will add.
Also, we need to recognize that a lack of evidence for certain faith-based truth claims about reality has an important bearing on the equivalency of faith-based beliefs and scientific conclusions that are at odds. And nowhere is this more evident than in the dishonest presentation of evolution by agenda-driven supporters of certain theologies as just another kind of belief similar to a faith-based one. This is an intentional misrepresentation – what many of us legitimately call ‘Lying for Jesus’ – of what is true in reality and an organized attempt to discredit the scientific method in this matter only to serve those who wish to pretend that reality in this matter only has no bearing on what we can know about its truth. These self appointed lovers of science in all other matters do not find this theologically driven hypocrisy to be disturbing to their equilibrium of intellectual integrity. Theology in this sense can be seen to exercise its power of selective anesthesia.
This use of the term ‘truth’ based on a shared materialistic and physical reality (existing separate from our subjective wishes but in which we are immersed) decries the believer’s failed postmodern notion that all truths are subjective.  In contrast to a scientific ‘truth’ that recognizes the submission of what is true to the constraints of reality – that we recognize and test through evidence found in reality and not what we simply believe or wish to be true -  if there were objective truth about God (and his nature and intentions and desires and expectations revealed to believers through revelation), scriptural authority, explanatory dogma we should find believers to be of the same faith. That within christianity we find well over 30,000 different sects should be seen as very strong evidence recognizable even by the postmodernists and other faith-based believers that subjective truth claims are not true in any reality-based and meaningful way comparable to a scientific truth claim. The word ‘truth’ is being abused by relativists-with-an-agenda where its central meaning – being in accord with a particular fact or reality – is simply ignored in order to co-opt its scientific sense for the believer’s own and dishonest purposes.
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7 Comments »

  1. My faith is based on a combination of reason, experience, scripture / history and tradition. It’s based on and around the person of Jesus Christ and his claims. I have often said it before that if anyone can prove that Christ didn’t exist, isn’t who he claimed to be and didn’t raise from the dead – I would walk away from my faith…for it would be totally foolish to believe it.

    However no one has ever disproved it and within my experience of life and the variety of miracles I have experienced – there is a lot of truth in what I believe.

    Comment by Craig Benno — July 19, 2011 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

    • You make it sound as if there is no important difference between fact and faith, Craig. But you know better.

      You make it sound as if it is reasonable that any theological claim – no matter how absurd – is as valid as any other non-theological claim as long as it is not disproved. Really? What surprises me is that you would hold onto this line of broken thinking in spite of knowing full well why it is broken: you cannot disprove an invisible pink elephant lives in your left nostril. All you can do is show that there are no good reasons to think there is. You seem quite willing to use this broken thinking in regards to your faith, where you also know perfectly well good reasoning holds no sway and think yourself open-minded to contrary evidence. Plainly, this is false because you’ve set up the condition where no reasonable argument backed by evidence means anything. In this way your faith of the religious kind is immune to such vulgarities as reality and clear thinking.

      Yet look at how easily you discard exactly the same supports you pretend are what reasonably inform your theology in matters of, say, a flat earth or an earth-centred solar system. To these you yield your trust in scriptural authority and the long tradition of believers who shared that trust over the centuries and accept the evidence that these scriptural references are, in fact, erroneous… yet carry on with believing in supernatural creationism in spite of even greater evidence that evolution is true. This reveals your intellectual cherry-picking on behalf of your current theology. This is, in fact and deed, clear evidence for a lack of intellectual integrity on your part when it comes to matters of your chosen bits of theology and an eagerness to embrace hypocrisy in the name of your faith if you think it furthers your cause. This kind of intellectual inconsistency is a tactical approach that is not a strength to inform your faith but an advertisement why it anesthetizes your critical faculties.

      Comment by tildeb — July 19, 2011 @ 7:15 pm | Reply

  2. “In contrast, scientists—regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or nationality—converge on single, agreed-upon answers …”.

    Horseshit!

    When you are talking about explicit, undeniable, quantifiable phenomena, well that’s just evidence. It’s the extrapolation and interpretation that gives it meaning and that’s where the issues arise. Evidence alone is never the critical factor, it’s how it is to be interpreted and unless it relates in some way to human experience then it’s not much use. Russell and Wittgenstein were brilliant men who collaborated on a number of things. They effectively had an interchangeable set of knowledge and even came from similar, very privileged backgrounds but despite this they came to different conclusions about our origins and the value of faith in our lives. Scientists are no different. Yes they can follow certain scientific methods to ensure integrity and robustness in their field work but the best they can hope for when attributing meaning to it is some level of consensus.

    Comment by Alfred Willmore — July 19, 2011 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

    • Attributing meaning? Is that what you think science is supposed to do? What’s the meaning of erosion? What’s the meaning of gravity? What’s the meaning of evolution? These are terrible questions because they have no answers in reality. Sure, you can submit all kinds of made-up claims to provide what looks like answers to these questions, but that doesn’t make them true in the scientific sense because reality offers us no way to differentiate between these so-called answers.

      In addition, the point was that truth claims of theologies diverge (hence the reason why there are so many of them) whereas the truth claims of science converge (hence the reason why chemistry is one subject undivided by language, culture, religion, region, and so on). You seemed to have missed that meaning in your haste to call ‘horseshit’.

      Comment by tildeb — July 19, 2011 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

    • “When you are talking about explicit, undeniable, quantifiable phenomena, well that’s just evidence.”

      Just evidence… are you sure about that?

      If you get ill and a single doctor says that you have cancer, you may ask for the ‘evidence’ – if you disagree with the evidence you may ask a second doctor who will collect more evidence, if both doctors agree that the evidence says you have cancer would you still challenge that diagnosis and refuse treatment and carry on asking doctors to collect evidence until it agrees with just your view and not the view of the consensus?

      Scientific consensus not only means that the ‘outcome’ (decision) is agreed upon, but it also means that disagreements are in the minority, and are mitigated (recorded, discredited or investigated further). Scientific consensus also means that the method for deciding the outcome has also been agreed.

      Scientific consensus is used to build anything that we depend upon. Drugs are designed in this way, so are large civil engineering projects, software, medical procedures, space vehicles, gas masks, cars – you name it if a human life depends upon it the decision that it is safe to use is based on a scientific and methodical consensus would you want it to be done any differently?

      Comment by misunderstoodranter — July 20, 2011 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  3. I will reverse your question – I don’t believe in Jesus, I don’t think he ever existed at all, because there is no evidence beyond a story book that indicates that this fictitious character ever existed. Jesus is a common name even today. There were probably thousands of people named Jesus, and there were equally thousands of people all claiming to be one of god’s celebrities – indeed this is still true today. Evangelical leaders are god’s celebrities; the pope is a one of god’s celebrities. Do I believe the Pope is holy as in someone who gets special treatment from god? NO – he is just a guy in a funny hat that an organisation claims to be holy. Jesus if he existed at all was most probably the same sort of person – a man who claimed to be the son of god, who told some wise truths had a few funny rituals, was a bit of a speaker and had a gathering of followers – so what.

    Your faith in Jesus has no more veracity than my daughters faith in Santa. The only difference is that one day she will grow up and realise there isn’t a Santa, and all the adults had been in a conspiracy to protect her innocence of youth. Unlike you, she will forgive the adults in the conspiracy instantly because she will understand the reasons why the adults carried on the charade. She will not deny that Santa does not exist or deny the existence of the conspiracy – she will accept her own observations as the truth, which is what you have done with regard to Santa, but have failed to do with regard to Jesus.

    It is a fairy tale – Craig, if you claim that it is true – then the burden of evidence is upon you.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — July 20, 2011 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  4. It is a fairy tale – Craig, if you claim that it is true – then the burden of evidence is upon you.

    True is that.

    I have often said it before that if anyone can prove that Christ didn’t exist…

    Teh stupid. It burns. This is one of the reasons why atheists make fun of religious people.

    God Doesn’t Exist? Prove It!

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — July 26, 2011 @ 11:21 am | Reply


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